The tension between Israel and Hezbollah has flared up again as the two groups reportedly exchanged gunfire on Monday, July 27th, 2020 along the Lebanese border.
According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), three to five Hezbollah soldiers crossed the border and entered Israeli territory by “a few meters” armed with automatic weapons. IDF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus reported that the Israeli forces retaliated with both ground and tank fire, which successfully “[thwarted] the attack.” Hezbollah, a political party and militant group backed by Iran, denied staging the operation claiming, “that there has been no clash or shooting from its part in the events of the day until now. Rather it was only one party, which was the fearful, anxious and tense enemy.”
Israel’s initial response to the violence was cautiously prompt; the military immediately issued ‘shelter in place’ orders mandating civilians to stay at home for their safety. The restrictions remained in effect for approximately one hour and affected over 40 different communities along the ‘Blue Line’ border that is shared between Israel and Lebanon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel is keeping a wary eye on the situation and “is prepared for any scenario.” More specifically, he noted, “Lebanon and Hezbollah will bear the responsibility of any attack against us emanating from Lebanese territory.”
In light of these events, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has begun an investigation into the situation. UNIFIL commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, will personally meet with leadership on both sides to further “assess the situation and decrease tension.”
This is hardly the first time that violence has broken out between Israel and the Lebanese based Hezbollah group. In 1982, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin launched “Operation Peace for Galilee,” a military offensive in which Israel invaded Lebanon and seized territory right up to the capital city of Beirut. Decades before, Israel expanded its autonomy beyond the territorial provisions regulate by the United Nations in 1948.
Hezbollah emerged as a resistance group during the Lebanese occupation in 1982 and formed a strong partnership with Shiite Iran, which began to grow in popularity across the country. After Israel withdrew from Lebanon in June 2000, Hezbollah continued to strengthen its military wing known as the Islamic Resistance. Despite pressure from the international community to disarm, Hezbollah’s military capabilities continued to grow. According to the BBC, they are even stronger than the Lebanese army now.
Over time Hezbollah has evolved and achieved prominence in Lebanon; they have been responsible for multiple bombings and terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets. They are widely labelled as a terrorist organization; Israel, several western and Arab states, and the Arab League consider Hezbollah a terrorist group.
Unsurprisingly, the Blue Line has frequently been the location of violent confrontations between Israel and Hezbollah. However, Monday’s incident reveals just how deep the underlying tension and animosity runs.
The reason for the gunfire on Monday remains disputed. Israel claims militants crossed the UN-recognized border while Hezbollah accuses the Jewish state of engaging in an unprovoked attack that killed one of its soldiers. Hezbollah has promised that retaliation “is definitely coming,” which only perpetuates the cyclic nature of hostilities in this region and pushes these two adversaries to the brink of another war.
With conflicting information regarding Monday’s incident, UNIFIL’s investigation is crucial. The UNIFIL must produce results that shed light on what occurred along the Blue Line. The region is already on high alert as Israel continues to establish more settlements in Palestine, having received Donald Trump’s undivided and uncompromising support.
Ultimately, it does not matter whether Israel or Hezbollah instigated the violence, or if it was purely a misunderstanding made between two paranoid parties who are constantly fearful of being attacked. What matters is that this investigation produces the truth, so that whatever mistakes were made on Monday cannot be repeated in the future. Peace is incredibly hard to come by in this region, but we must take as many steps as we can to reduce the relentless violence and conflict plaguing these countries.
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